In April I was fortunate enough to get to escape to the Netherlands which is where the Austin Adventures’ Europe Office is located. When most people think of the Netherlands they usually envision fields of tulips and turning windmills. What they don’t think of are the striking statistics; the Netherlands is Europe’s most densely populated country and contrary to where I come from (Montana) 25 percent of the place is below sea level!
The latter fact came in handy when we started our trip off with a bike ride to Keukenhof-Holland’s annual tulip festival. Our guide, and gracious host for the week, was Ron van Dijk, Austin Adventuresâ’ Europe Operations Director. Ron is a Holland native who is currently celebrating more than 40 years of guiding trips throughout Europe. He still guides quite a few trips for Austin Adventures, but he also spends a lot of time training and managing our other European guides, most of whom I had the pleasure of meeting while in Holland. After all, my trip to Holland was for Europe Guide Training, it just felt more like a vacation at times because I was treated to some adventures and activities that I wouldn’t otherwise experience in the U.S.
Like Keukenhof. Known as the “Garden of Europe” – Keukenhof is home to more than 7 million flower bulbs. I wasn’t keeping track, but I think I saw at least a million of them. Their colors – purple, pink, white, yellow, and of course, orange – were extraordinary. If you’re ever able to visit Holland between late March and late May, I highly recommend spending an afternoon at Keukenhof.
Another highlight of my trip was going with all of the guides to a “pannekoekenhuis” where we tasted traditional Dutch pancakes. Imagine a much flatter, larger American pancake, and you have the Dutch variety. It’s slightly thicker than a crepe, but like crepes it’s perfectly acceptable to top them with anything: savory, sweet, etc. It’s also not taboo to eat them at any time of the day. Personally, I was a fan of topping mine with brie, walnuts and honey. And washing them down with coffee. Another statistic that most people aren’t aware of? After Scandinavians, the Dutch consume more coffee than any other nationality.
Naturally, because Europe Guide Training was in Holland and I was staying with Ron -the country’s native son – I learned a lot about the Dutch on this trip. But I was also able to get a glimpse into other European cultures as well. Many of our European guides were born in the Netherlands, but today, they take our guests all over the continent. Croatia, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Austria are just a few of their stomping grounds, and they’ve been leading tours for years, if not decades, so they’re like walking (and cycling) encyclopedias when it comes to all things Europe.
While our guides were getting training refreshers, on everything from bike mechanics to first aid and paperwork, it was neat to observe them in their element, or as close as you can get to it without being a guest on one of the vacations they lead. If you’ve already booked one of our summer 2015 Europe vacations, you’re in great hands, and if you haven’t, it’s not too late. Just call 1-800-575-1540, and we’ll see that you have the vacation of a lifetime – whether that means doing as I did and visiting gardens, eating pancakes and biking through Holland’s flat countryside or alternatively, hiking in the Alps and possibly paragliding. The sea and/or sky are the limits – just let us know when and where you want to go!